Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Posted: November 14th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Out of the System

Dance Umbrella 2017, Out of the System, Rich Mix, October 16

Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay (photo: Pari Naderi)

In another creative twist in the development of Dance Umbrella under the artistic direction of Emma Gladstone, Out of the System is a mini festival within the festival curated by guest programmer, Freddie Opoku-Addaie. He describes the title as a metaphor for the presence of diverse dance cultures within vocational and non-vocational structures outside the regular framework of dance presentation — not to mention the inclusion of bands Yaaba Funk & DJ Kweku Aacht, and Kioko who perform on successive evenings. It is also, like the Shoreditch Takeover, a crossover between dance curation and building management; this one involves four distinct works by artists from five countries in three different spaces within Rich Mix over two nights (which is a shame, as I miss Alesandra Seutin’s Across The Souvenir). Both here and at the Town Hall the programs weave together loose associations with what we might consider to be dance and turn them into a wealth of experience that can change that perception profoundly. There is a sense of open-ended raw material here, even if the works are finished: La Macana’s Ven seems to arise directly out of the audience; Sello Pesa’s After Tears throws time out of the window, and the improvisational energy of Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay wants to break out of the confines of the stage and take over the entire floor.

I had seen Ven two years ago at Costa Contemporánea in Andalucia, and it is one of those works that can bury itself in the recesses of your memory and come out again unchanged. The intricate timing of the interaction between Caterina Varela and Alexis Fernández is breathtaking but it is also polished: it has to be. They are like two circus performers who eschew trapeze and ropes for the instruments of their own bodies; they climb on each other, jump on each other, lift each other, balance and counterbalance in a defiant flow of impossibility that resolves through the strength and sensitivity of their well-honed skills. Against such precision, the couple’s apparent nonchalance is matched by the delightfully offbeat songs of Einstuerzende Neubauten.

Sello Pesa’s After Tears undoes all preconceptions. Described as an investigation of ‘the mourning process and the strategies people use in order to cope with death’, it’s like a private ritual to which the Soweto-born Pesa has invited us. He makes no pretense of a performance as he practices yoga on a red rug at the entrance to the third-floor space; we aren’t sure if this is part of the work, so we watch until we are ushered through the door to pick up a folding chair and wait behind a curved shoreline of red tape. In his own time Pesa moves his rug into the space with a pair of boots, a couple of crates of beer and a transistor radio playing a local station as the central focus and sole source of sound. Pesa gives an eerie sense we aren’t in the same room and yet his trance-like presence is all-pervasive. He rolls himself up in the rug and lies like the deceased, but then wears the rug around his shoulders and his head like an enigmatic, animated spiritual guide before bludgeoning it with fists and boots to mark his resolve. He seems to span both the realms of the living and the dead so as to come to grips with the inner conflict of the ‘South African tradition of returning a person’s spirit to its rightful destination’. Utterly compelling, After Tears returns dance to its ritual roots, revealing new dimensions in both movement and performance.

There is little doubt, however, about the performative nature of the collaboration between Asha Thomas and Yinka Esi Graves in Clay. Whatever inner resources well up from within their minds and bodies are fully expressed in energetic and sensual form. The collaboration between an American contemporary dancer with Southern Baptist genes and a British flamenco dancer with roots in Jamaica and Ghana is just the beginning; what they share goes beyond their recent origins to ‘explore the connections between who they believe themselves to be, and the unconscious parts that make up who they are’. As they play off each other’s physical styles and sartorial taste, their individuality merges with an infectious sense of delight at the connections made — a body percussion sequence with guitarist Guillermo Guillén borders on the ecstatic — and like old friends they can complete each other’s rhythmic phrases. But there’s more here; we tend to think of flamenco as a Spanish phenomenon with Moorish origins, but recent research suggests a link, through the rhythmic musical structures, to the Spanish slave trade with the New World. In Clay, images of flamenco merge with South American religious iconography as Thomas adorns Graves as a participant in a Holy Week procession and wheels her across the stage. The two women finish playfully to Guillén’s accompaniment, like two sisters from the distant past revelling in their common roots.

I first heard Opoku-Addaie before I saw him, in a performance of Silence Speaks Volumes at BDE 2010 where his blood-curdling roar from the behind the audience announced his entrance. His voice has again preceded the choreographic action, this time not his own but of his own choosing. May the experiment continue.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Posted: October 31st, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Shoreditch Takeover

Dance Umbrella 2017, Shoreditch Takeover, Shoreditch Town Hall, October 28

Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan (photo: Luc Depreitere)

The final party of Dance Umbrella 2017 at Shoreditch Town Hall continues the festival’s experiments in matching dance and architecture, the body and its forms of expression. The theme of Shoreditch Takeover could well be the power of the moving word: Julie Cunningham & Company’s Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows is inspired by the writings of French feminist and literary theorist Monique Wittig; Lisbeth Gruwez embodies the songs of poet Bob Dylan, and Vanessa Kisuule performs a selection of her own poetry. For the word-weary there is Charles Linehan’s 18-minute choreographic film, The Shadow Drone Project, that loops silently in a space of its own throughout the evening. Shoreditch Town Hall was never designed for dance, but this pairing of dance and spoken word neatly blends its municipal role with a temporary focus on communicative performance.

Coming into the elegantly proportioned Assembly Hall for Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows, there is a heightened sense of order in the rectangle of black floor, the haphazard arrangement of lyre-backed chairs — some upturned or leaning against another like the silent aftermath of a domestic quarrel — and Richard Godin’s diffused lighting with the faintest whiff of haze. Three women enter in the dark; Anna Martine Freeman sits but in a gentle light Hannah Burfield and Londiwe Khoza start to recreate in halting, abstract terms their personal quarrel to which the mute chairs bear witness, an irretrievable chasm within the suggestion of an embrace. Freeman remains silent, untying her boots as she recalls through her skin the discomfort of the injurious past, when from behind the audience Cunningham enters noisily into the present like a latecomer in a skimpy black outfit supported on high-heeled boots and topped with a long unruly blonde wig. She minces directly to Freeman and climbs over her like an exotic dancer called upon to perform for a client. Cunningham’s raw, explicit imagery contrasts emotionally and spatially with duet of Burfield and Khoza, who wait for the right moment to slip away. Off come the wig and boots as Cunningham explores the relationship between Wittig’s textual imagery (delivered by Freeman) and her own. But while Freeman gives a forceful, emotionally mature reading through her gestures and the very texture of her voice, Cunningham’s response feels self-conscious, lacking the emotional potency conveyed in the spoken words. By the time Rays, Sparks, Beating Glows finishes, the order in the room has been replaced by a sense of unease.

Downstairs in the Council Chamber, Vanessa Kisuule presents a colourful set of her poems, following on from Freeman in delivering not only the words but the gestures that carry them. Dance is a non-verbal art form but used in the right way Kisuule reminds us these silent gestures move through figures of speech and poetic images in celebration of the sensual non-verbal eloquence of the poetry. Kisuule whets the appetite with a poem entitled Rosé, and follows it with a ribald tale about shaving assholes (‘the crassist of bathroom ballets’) before delivering in a soft patina of an American accent a dark, poignant reflection on Martin Luther King told through the voice of one of his lovers. Effusive, expressive and irrepressible, Kisuule then reads a touching tribute to her Ugandan grandmother before a final bullet-point poem of irreverent reflections.

Back upstairs after the intermission, Lisbeth Gruwez and musician/composer Maarten Van Cauwenberghe stand behind the sound console with the relaxed attitude of old friends and the nervous excitement of waiting for the audience to settle. Lisbeth Gruwez dances Bob Dylan is what’s written on the tin, like the iconic covers of Dylan’s early vinyl LPs resting on the floor against the console. Van Cauwenberghe slips out a record on to a turntable and lowers the needle while Gruwez stands in bare feet and casual clothes, an image of expectancy in a field of energy. These are early songs, fresh, acoustic and enthusiastic; again we are reminded that words move and transport us into the worlds they create through the sensuality of sound and inflection. It is difficult to establish exactly where Gruwez positions herself in these songs though she is rhythmically attuned and the odd gesture picks out an accent in the poetic sequence of words. She is neither illustrating the songs, nor simply doing her own thing with them; it’s as if she has turned the rasp and lilt of Dylan’s dancing voice inside out and given it powerful, fluid gestures and an intense gaze; at times she even resembles Dylan. She relishes the verbal musicality, capturing the idiosyncrasies of Dylan’s alliterations, the expansiveness of his metaphors, and the minimalism of his synecdoche with exuberant delight and elegant nonchalance, but at the same time her gestures set up other images. Walking slowly upstage in Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, her white silk shirt sticking to her skin and emphasizing the muscular rippling in her back, she is like the lonely hero in Wim Wenders’s film Paris Texas; in the glorious Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands we see her floating bare-legged on the floor in a pool of light that Van Cauwenberghe guides around and over her, reflecting in the shiny black surface a seamless depiction of femininity in Western art from Venus to St Theresa. Catching her breath, she tenderly asks the audience ‘Is everyone all right’? Gruwez is very much at ease on stage; she comments on her own actions and jokes with Van Cauwenberghe in asides between songs and then climbs back inside the voice, romping delightfully through Subterranean Homesick Blues before inviting us to select a song (Hurricane is chosen), take off our shoes and join her on the stage to dance Bob Dylan together.

In the intermission, there were too many people in the room watching Linehan’s film projection, The Shadow Drone Project, to be able to stand back and contemplate Karolis Janulis’ (already) long-distance photography from a drone of dancing figures in various landscapes. We returned after Gruwez and before the DJ had started up in the Council Chambers. Linehan has made choreographic poetry of the aerial photography by featuring the extended shadows of dancers in the late sunshine; we are watching their patterns superimposed on the dancing patterns of the landscape or shoreline. It’s a serenely simple concept and the result takes dancing to another distant realm, totally enchanting and surreal at the same time.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Posted: October 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami

Dance Umbrella: Satchie Noro & Silvain Ohl, Origami, Battersea Power Station, October 11

Satchie Noro in Origami in front of the Battersea Power Station (photo: Johnny Stephens)

Origami’s free performance opened London’s 2017 Dance Umbrella Festival and was subsequently performed in four other London locations.

If we were to imagine the American artist Donald Judd dozing in his studio, he might have been dreaming of a bright red container on the Thames riverfront set against the profile and the silhouetted cranes of Battersea Power Station on a drizzly, misty evening. An audience gathers in front of the parked 40-foot container on the terrace in front of Circus West Village Piazza, which is the point at which Judd’s dream vies with reality. On a balcony just above and to the side of the container, as if they are sitting in a covered theatre box, residents from the block of flats have settled down to watch the spectacle. Dance Umbrella is turning open air spaces into theatres and bringing dance to new audiences.

Origami is as much about the experience of watching it as it is about the performance itself. What Satchie Noro and Silvain Ohl have created is an awareness of both scale and contrast and as if the inherent contrast between a container and a solo dancer is not enough, the evening’s floodlit landscape of the refurbished power station rises like a monumental set behind them. Fred Costa’s sound score seems to arise from the same industrial, riverside setting and continues as a collage of music, speech and urban sounds that merge with the installation’s own mechanical rasp to wrap the visual reverie in a timeless and borderless aural space. Despite the sense of imposing gravitational force all around, the experience of watching the performance is somehow unearthly.

Origami is generally thought of as the Japanese art of paper folding, but the development of the science and mathematics of origami has led to research where hard materials, oxyacetylene cuts and metal hinges replace the traditional paper and folds. What Ohl has conceived in slicing up his container is a rigid origami pattern which we see initially in profile as essentially flat, but when its inverted triangular section slowly winches open on its hinges we experience a three-dimensional origami flooded with light. The light in turn softens the industrial edges of the metal to prepare for the emergence of a human element. At first we see two elegantly pointed feet swimming languidly in the air but as the geometric space unfurls, we see the feet are joined to a female figure dressed in green trousers and layered blue and red tops suspended by her hips on a trapeze. The playful colours are reminiscent Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, though Noro’s shades of blue and green are minute flecks of colour against the giant red surface.

Noro’s childlike nonchalance and sense of adventure within this layered interaction of material and light, of mass and space, of small and industrially large is what gives Origami its dreamlike aspect. Her agile motion animates the space and plays with the juxtaposition of scale. At the top corner of the container close to the balcony she seems to be within reach of the spectators, drawing them into the action, and when all we can see is her hands gripping the top of a container wall she’s hiding behind, such a tiny detail is clearly recorded as an extension of her invisible form.

Once the rigid origami begins to open, its two mobile sections continue to move, almost imperceptibly, until the end. Noro’s negotiation of both the material of the container and the spaces between its elements shares this elongation of time; she moves slowly and smoothly, an ability derived from her training in classical dance and circus arts. She is as comfortable hanging in space and from the steel ropes that connect the three sections as she is climbing on their exterior surfaces or sliding down their edges. She occasionally punctuates the arc of her movement with static poses like a classical sculpture in the pediment of the upturned triangle, or draping herself over its apex, drawing our attention to the architectural shapes and spaces that the origami pattern suggests.

Just in front of the standing audience three children follow Noro’s every move with their eyes and bodies, daring each other to accomplish on the damp terrace what she is achieving up above. It is only at the end when Noro drops lightly from the trapeze to the floor of the container and disappears into the welcoming light of its interior that the children finally awake from their dreams of aerial adventure.

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Posted: October 17th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Festival, Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven

Dance Umbrella 2017: Rocío Molina, Fallen from Heaven, Barbican, October 14

Rocío Molina in Fallen from Heaven (photo: djfrat)

There’s a suggestion of flamenco in Rocío Molina’s image (see above) on the cover of Dance Umbrella’s program for Fallen from Heaven but the stage set — a white screen, a bare white floor with a drum kit, a beat box, and two electric guitars propped up against chairs — does not immediately corroborate it. Another suggestion comes from a program note stating Molina has ‘coined her own artistic language based on a reinvented traditional flamenco style’ but following the opening acid rock number by the four musicians who then leave the stage, expectations are left wide open. When the lights reveal the voluptuous Molina alone on stage in her white flamenco dress poised as Botticelli’s Venus in a scalloped shell, images collide. Molina displays the silent vestiges of flamenco in her raised arms, coiled wrist and fingers and slow, silent clapping before descending to the floor like a muffled chrysalis about to emerge as a new form: birth and death at the same time, or what Joseph Schumpeter called in economic terms ‘creative destruction’. She slides across the floor with a marked disdain for fluidity, her body and dress morphing into the shape of insects whose upended legs and feet wilfully contort the upright elongation of the classic form. If the body is doing its best to rub out its flamenco traces, there is still the dress to dispose of, which Molina slips off with less modesty than coyness; her arms cover her chest and groin with more precision than Botticelli until her attendant musicians arrive to place an ample jacket over her shoulders under which she changes into her next costume. We have almost arrived at the point in the press release where Molina ‘borrows from feminine, masculine and animalistic codes to give a very personal performance about womanhood’.

The next tableaux deal rather messily with the masculine code in which Molina self-consciously pulls flamenco through the ringer of cross-dressing (herself as buxom toreador in white tights, black sports bra and black plastic knee pads) and overt sexual imagery like her codpiece of ejaculating crisps. Her provocative tone degrades her treatment of male stereotypes to a parody, but while she mocks them she fails to avoid clichés of her own, particularly the superficial projection of woman as sexual object surrounded by admiring men. When Molina steps into a box to pull on a transparent latex skirt drenched in a sticky carmine substance with which she subsequently paints the floor in choreographic strokes, her statement loses the biting gender critique that performance artists and female choreographers before her (like Charlotte Vincent) have expressed, because she treats it, through an overhead camera, too literally as image. It is this indulgence in the mere visual effect of images that makes a muddle of the many tableaux, costume changes, entrances and exits that constitute Fallen from Heaven. Molina inhabits her material too superficially to build a convincing picture out of these various elements and her performance suffers by not moving beyond the safe boundaries of modest déjà vu. Some of the responsibility for this must also lie with Carlos Marquerie whose roles as co-artistic director, dramaturg, stage and lighting designer are too deeply embedded in the production to ignore.

The one thread that remains constant throughout Fallen from Heaven is the virtuosity of Molina’s rhythmic, percussive footwork that, in her interaction with the musicians, proves an impressive (and un-reconstituted) element of her art, even if it loses its spirited theatricality through being used unsparingly as a running commentary. It is only later in the work, when the fallout from heaven has strewn the stage with plastic carnations, red paint and bunches of plastic grapes that Molina seems to come into her own as a flamenco exorcist in search of Dionysus. Guitarist Eduardo Trassiera plays memorably, but Molina has difficulty navigating the end. With nothing left but her indefatigable energy and a raft of costume clichés, she plays to the crowd (and in the crowd) unashamedly as if she’s the heroic survivor of an unjust plot by the flamenco gods — all male — to banish her from the classical heaven. Her revenge is to bring the audience to its feet.


Rocío Molina performed Fallen from Heaven (Caída del Cielo), part of Dance Umbrella 2017, at the Barbican 12-14 October.